Mike Nothnagel’s New York Times crossword
You’d think traveling west would make me more awake for crossword blogging since the NYT comes out an hour earlier than I’m used to, but no. I neglected to realize that vacation would be no fun if I were sitting in my hotel room at 8 p.m. every night, ready for the puzzle. So now it’s after midnight on the East Coast and I’m tired despite it being two hours earlier in Colorado. So! Short shrift for puzzles. Won’t have time in the morning. Ack.
Favorite fill: ALL OR NONE, GOLDEN BOY, LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (which took me forever to figure out), GO BANANAS, NINE LIVES, NOT MY CUP OF TEA, BLOW A FUSE, and I CAN’T WAIT.
Less pleased with the TOWNE/APHIS/PIONS stack (right on top of ELEA and ELY) and the essed-up edges (more than half of ESSAY TESTS, ESTES, EGESTED and WANED consists of E’s and S’s).
Overall score, 3.75 stars. It might be more if I were more awake.
Victor Barocas’ Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Journey Man” — pannonica’s review
It’s a floor wax! And a dessert topping! I mean, it’s a crossword puzzle, and a word ladder! In both cases, the obvious question is, Why?
The puzzle’s theme is the story of ODYSSEUS: 21a [Person traveling from 2 Down]. Thus it begins: 2d [Start of a word ladder (and the starting point of the journey)]:
TROY TROT TOOT HOOT HOST HOSE HOME
The final “rung” repeats the format of the first, while the incremental answers (which alternate with ballast entries) have generic, unrevealing ordinal clues. The counterbalancing symmetrical weighter (at 60-across) to ODYSSEUS is his long-suffering wife, PENELOPE. In order to accommodate the ladder, the grid is telescoped out to 16 rows.
The immediate answer to my question of “why” is that the ladder represents Odysseus’ journey back to Ithaca following the events of The Iliad. However, that is the source of my biggest complaint, that it undermines the theme. The whole point of the epic poem is that it takes the hero ten years of wandering to return home. See, what should have been a relatively quick jaunt turned into a tortuous and torturous journey because ol’ O pissed off Poseidon, the god of the sea. You know, the thing you have to navigate over to get from TROY to your island HOME? Bonehead move for a smart guy, not that I’m the first to point this out in the last 2800 years. (Nor would I be the first to note that his dog, Argos, must have been unbelievably old upon his master’s return, but I digress.)
I mean, the guy’s epithet is “the Wanderer”! Yet here we have a word ladder—ostensibly representing his trip—that marches with military crispness across the grid. It subverts the entire character of the story, which is so often described as the tale of a man trying to get home, emphasis on the trying. There are Sirens and Circes, Scyllae and Charybdix, Calypsos and Skas, Aeola and Polyphemera and more, all diverting him from his path (excuse my heretic Latinizations); it isn’t the story of a guy who simply goes home.
Oh sure, you might say that the word alterations inherent in the ladder suggest the changes undergone by the protagonist during those ten years, but I’m not buying that. And sure, you might say that I’m applying too critical an analysis to what is after all a mere diversion, to which I reply that a puzzle appearing in the Chronicle of Higher Education should be held to a higher standard when it comes to classical artifacts such as this. I would then thoughtfully add “nyeh!” or possibly “neener-neener,” and “pfft!”
Theme-reminiscent entries include AT LAST, CIRQUE, STORM SYSTEM, ODD, ISLE, CLASSIC, TALE. The narrow channel created by the diagonal ladder might put one in mind of the Symplegades, the so-called Clashing Rocks, but they weren’t encountered by Odysseus’ party (that was the Argonauts). They also avoided the Planctae, or Wandering Rocks, but I digress yet again. In any event, it restricts the grid a little.
STORM SYSTEM and its partner, SQUARE DANCE, are very welcome additions, being both interesting and lengthy.
- Putting WTS. as the opening across entry is not a good way to win friends. [Scale amts.]
- 48a is timely, considering yesterday’s comments discussion regarding the NYT. [2012 Grammy winner and namesakes] ADELES. Those namesakes are presumably Astaire, Hugo, and Varens.
- I never noticed how close ESTHETE and machete are. Okay, not that close, but still. Say, did you know that tronçonneuse is French for “chainsaw”? … I’m fine, really. Why do you ask?
- HUGUENOT [St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre victim]. Ah, there’s that Higher Education vibe™.
- Favorite clue: [Station workers] DJS.
- Favorite fill: MILKSOP [Namby-pamby].
To recap, the conceit of the puzzle rubbed me the wrong way, so even though in and of itself it may have been average or slightly better, I view it as subpar. Definitely not Shimmery.
p.s. My favorite version of The Odyssey is Robert Fitzgerald’s verse translation. Discuss.
Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Take Charge” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Four colorful expressions meaning “take charge,” all in the form “(verb) THE (noun),” are clued with specific reference to their nouns.
Wow, that’s a dull explanation for pretty cool theme. Maybe a recitation of the theme entries and their clues will help:
- 20-Across: To [Take charge at the immunization clinic?] is to CALL THE SHOTS.
- 27-Across: To [Take charge on the gridiron?] is to CARRY THE BALL. I’m more familiar with dropping the ball.
- 46-Across: To [Take charge at the fashion show?] is to WEAR THE PANTS.
- 53-Across: To [Take charge in the henhouse?] is to RULE THE ROOST.
Had all the clues simply read [Take charge], the puzzle would have been much less satisfying. The rest of the clues were on the bland side, however, save only for [Wise guys?] as the clue for MENSA. As to the fill, only AT HOME, TOY CARS, and NOB HILL, the [San Francisco neighborhood], stand out. (Of course a hill stands out. That’s what hills do.) That’s not to say the rest of the fill is sub-par or deficient (the worst offender is probably HIDER)–it just lacks much sizzle. If you like the theme enough, that’s okay. But if the theme leaves you wanting more, the fill isn’t going to, well, fill that need.
Jack McInturff’s Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s review
LET it be Friday! Each of the long theme entries sports a little caudal accessory, namely the aforementioned trio of letters, to create a nonsensical new phrase, clued appropriately.
- 17a. [Pricewaterhouse Coopers, e.g.?] BUSINESS TRIPLET.
- 25a. [Original Roanoke settlement?] VIRGINIA HAMLET.
- 41a. [Actress failing to live up to expectations?] FALLING STARLET.
- 54a. [Bit of style in one’s blood?] FASHION PLATELET.
First, the mechanics of a theme like this allow the solver to blindly write in a bunch of letters, since it’s easy to figure out what’s going on after two—or possibly one—themer is gotten. That’s six or even nine “free” squares. While that’s fine for an early week puzzle, it’s disappointing for a supposedly tougher Friday offering.
Second, consistency. You know I like to dissect such things, so this shouldn’t have been unexpected. My criticism lies with the latter two; both are changed by -LET to diminutive versions of the original word in its original sense. A STARLET is a little star, and a PLATELET resembles a miniature plate. While it’s true that a HAMLET is a small town, deriving from the archaic ham, the ham in VIRGINIA HAM is a different animal, arising from a distinct etymological root. Ditto for trip and TRIPLET. Obviously these two are more interesting and it would have been preferable for the others to follow suit, but I’d even have been (slightly) more satisfied if all four were consistent in simply diminishing a noun via suffixation. The two “good” ones are tantalizing in context, which makes for an equally diminished solving experience.
Speaking of triplets, there’s an unholy crosswordese conglomeration of OAST, AFTA, and OPEL a bit above the center. We also have OGEE and OREL chumming it up at the bottom, not far from OLIN (with a non-Lena clue; who knew it was a “big name in chemicals”?).
- Liked the crossing of Peter LORRE and Mel TORME (the “Velvet Fog” who was the ["It Wasn't All Velvet" autobiographer]).
- Ditto the travelicious stack in the northwest: PANAM/ACELA.
- SERAPHS and NAPALM raining from the sky! Verticals descending from the first row. Located similarly is 5d [Graham, for one] MAN OF GOD. I found this a strange clue, which took me quite a while to understand. I assume it’s Billy GRAHAM, who
died inis still kicking at age 93. Is he still a relevant religio-political figure?
- Neighbors in the southeast with allied clues: 52d [House addition] DECK and 53d [Room addition] -ETTE. The latter, especially as it occupies the edge space at the “end” of the puzzle, seems to significantly echo the theme; I’m undecided as to whether I think it’s good, as there are no other tie-ins elsewhere.
- Cluing is strong throughout, with a good mix of playfulness, chestnuts, and a few new angles.
David Kahn’s Celebrity crossword, “Sports Fan Friday”
Quick rundown today. The theme is active athletes’ nicknames:
- 16a. STEVE NASH, [Phoenix Suns point guard whose nickname is "Hair Canada": 2 wds.]
- 21a. PHIL MICKELSON, [Winner of four golf majors whose nickname is "Lefty": 2 wds.]
- 40a. MARIANO RIVERA, [Yankees closer whose nickname is "Sandman": 2 wds.]
- 47a. WES WELKER, [Patriots wide receiver whose nickname is "The Natural": 2 wds.]
Guess how many of those nicknames I knew. … ::guessing time:: None! That’s right. I’m lucky I know all their names, though the clues for Rivera and Welker certainly didn’t point me to them, since they’re less familiar to me than the other two guys … and really, [Winner of four golf majors] doesn’t scream Mickelson to me. It just says “you need some golf dude here, and you’ve probably heard of him.”
Michael Torch’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Bob Up and Down” — pannonica’s review
This one is reminiscent of Monday’s LAT, which had “L-o-t-L” phrases (LADY OF THE LAKE, LETTER OF THE LAW, et al.). Here, it’s B-O-B, and—as per the title—they’re vertical entries.
- 3d. [Try very hard to please] BEND OVER BACKWARD.
- 6d. [Mule, e.g.] BEAST OF BURDEN. If I were Jeffrey, I’d link to a video of the Rolling Stones here. If I were me in a more indulgent mood, I’d link to a sound clip of Kenny Burrell’s tribute to bassist Major Holley. Or Malicorne’s 1979 album.
- 11d. [Sign of parenthood in the mid-1980s] BABY ON BOARD. Now we have those equally annoying family member decals. (Even the “clever” and “subversive” variations can’t surmount the utter insipidness of the concept.) If I were Jeffrey, I’d link to the Be Sharps’ (Homer Simpson, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Barney Gumble, and Seymour Skinner) song of the same name. If I were me in a more malevolent mood, I’d wonder why I never bothered to market those “BABY IN TRUNK” versions way back when.
- 14d. [1994 MTV audience question for Bill Clinton] BOXERS OR BRIEFS? Insert joke here.
- 42d. [Whence Gen. McAuliffe replied to the Germans with “NUTS!”] BATTLE OF BASTOGNE. Kind of obscure for me, but if you want to know more about this component of the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944, have at Wikipedia (and perhaps the Further Reading and External Links sections).
- 52d. [Surreptitiously] BEHIND ONE’S BACK. Good entry, but too close to BEND OVER BACKWARD?
- 60d. [“Ishtar” or “Gigli”] BOX OFFICE BOMB. No oh-so-topical John Carter? Publishing lead-times are involved, no doubt.
- 72d. [Walk] BASE ON BALLS. I hear it’s baseball season, or something.
Lot of phrase options to choose from, and aside from the partial repetition mentioned above, there’s a good mix here. A grid with exclusively vertical themers still has a novel and refreshing feeling.
- Longer ballast fill:
- 23a ARNIE’S ARMY [Palmer's fans]. Sort of an early-stages decoy theme entry, with the double-A and its upper-left location.
- 30a “YOU SEND ME” cross-referenced to the SAM Cooke entry at 123d. If I were Jeffrey, I’d—okay, I’ll stop. Felt a little odd, as 123d is—in the grid—just SAM; don’t clues phrased like that refer to the entry independent of clue content?
- 33a HOT CORNER is a term I’ve (unsurprisingly) never heard of, referring to the third base position in baseball.
- 90a REELS OFF [Enumerates with ease]. Nice clue.
- 106a [Shaun White's ride] SNOWBOARD. Had not a clue (figuratively).
- 111a [Greeting for a Bolognese beauty] CIAO BELLA! I almost splurged the other day to buy myself a pint of Ciao Bella gelato, which seems to be available everywhere these days. *sigh* I remember when they were an upstart outfit operating out of an old commercial building in Little Italy. Where was it? Mott? Elizabeth? Definitely on the west side of whichever street.
- 122a ["The Muppets" actor-writer] JASON SEGEL. Completely unknown to me, but I haven’t seen the (well-received) recent film, nor am enough of a fan of Judd Apatow, with whom he’s frequently collaborated.
- 12d ARBORETUM.
- Associated consecutive entries! 26a [Element #54] XENON, and 27a [Salts of element #53] IODATES. I would have been happier if 22a had been linked to 21a, too.
- Nice little clue: 68a [Eye opener] LID.
- Least favorite partials: AN R, OF IT, SEEN A, AN AX. Someone wielding an ax might benefit from taking Xanax.
- Distant but associated clues: 48d [Benign growth] WEN, 118d [Unwanted growth] WEED. Whee!
Can’t say I had a “Whole LOTTA Love” (119a) for the puzzle, but it was an enjoyable enough solve for a Thursday night.